Google Phone app could add support for call recording, code suggests

Code added in the latest version of the Google Phone app suggests that it could support native call recording in the future. XDA-Developers was first to spot the code, which appeared in the app downloaded to a Pixel 4. The dialer app adds a new layout, icon, and other assets consistent with a call recording feature. The Google Phone app is currently the default dialer application on devices including Pixel and Android One phones.

Call recording has had a bumpy road on Android over the years. The feature used to be widely available in third-party apps via an official call recording API, but this was removed with Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Then, with Android 9 Pie, Google removed the workarounds app developers had been using to continue to offer it. In many places, this limited call recording to OEM-specific dialers, some slightly hacky workarounds, and rooted phones. There have been reports that Google is working on bringing widespread call recording functionality back to Android, but “security and privacy implications” prevented it from arriving with Android 10.

Currently, Android call recording appears to be available via third-party apps in some countries and devices but not others, at least according to one app developer. The slightly confusing situation has probably got something to do with call recording laws, which differ a lot between different countries, and even between individual states in the US. While some places let one person record a call without informing the other participant, others require both to consent to it. Adding the functionality to the Google Phone app wouldn’t change the law, but it could make call recording easier in locations where it’s less restricted.

While the code could mean that Google is working on bringing call recording to Pixel and Android One phones, XDA speculates that its release could be limited to Xiaomi devices. The code appeared in the Google Phone app soon after Xiaomi announced it would be switching to using Google’s dialer in Europe instead of its own MIUI dialer, which previously allowed for call recording.

There’s no guarantee the code discovered will ever turn into a fully fledged feature, but after Google did such a good job with the Pixel 4’s Recorder app, it’s hard not to see the potential here.


One of the Wii U’s best RPGs is even better on the Switch

At this point, there are vanishingly few reasons to hang on to a Wii U. Since the debut of the Switch in 2017, Nintendo has steadily been porting the Wii U’s best games to its hybrid device, titles that originally didn’t reach a massive audience because the console was largely a flop. That includes everything from Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze to Mario Kart 8 to New Super Mario Bros. U. So far the strategy has worked. In fact, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the Switch’s bestselling title, moving close to 20 million copies.

This week, one of the last great Wii U games is making its belated debut on the Switch. Tokyo Mirage Sessions may not be a huge Nintendo franchise, but for role-playing game fans, it’s worth checking out. It blends elements of Persona and Fire Emblem, and then covers them with a fine layer of candy-coated J-pop style. It’s yet another experience that benefits tremendously from the flexible nature of the Switch.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions takes place in modern-day Tokyo, and puts you in the role of a young kid named Itsuki, who, along with some friends, gets pulled into a strange struggle for the fate of the world. Hostile beings called mirages have been attacking the city, often resulting in the disappearance of citizens. In order to fight them off, Itsuki and team have to travel into a sort of parallel dimension filled with dark monsters. Practically speaking, it’s a dungeon-crawling RPG with turn-based battles, where you slowly make your way through various dangerous spaces.

What makes the game stand out is its pop music theme. It’s infused into virtually every aspect of the experience. The main characters aren’t just teens who save the world in their spare time, they’re also budding pop idols. When they enter into battle they’re thrust onto a stage full of screaming fans, while the in-game cut scenes are more like animated J-pop videos. Even the menu reflects the musical theme: characters are called artists, and you adjust their gear by heading to wardrobe. The result is a game that features much of what has made the Persona series so beloved — minus the social links feature — but with a much brighter, more colorful tone.

(For more on the game itself, be sure to check out our review of the original.)

It’s becoming cliche to say that a game is perfect for the Switch, but RPGs in particular benefit from the platform. Tokyo Mirage Sessions is a great example of this. So much of the experience is slowly trawling through maze-like dungeons, with plenty of strategic battles along the way. These moments are perfect for playing on the go, while the story sequences — particularly the gorgeous cut scenes — benefit from a bigger screen. Either way, the game looks great, and the copious text and menus are still legible on a small display. Functionally, the two versions of Tokyo Mirage Sessions are virtually identical, but when a game takes dozens of hours to complete, being able to play how and when you want is a huge deal.

There is one notable change. One of the more unique aspects of the original was its in-game smartphone. Much of the dialogue took place via group texts, and the game handled this in a novel way: you’d pull out your phone in the game, and then look down at the screen on the Wii U’s GamePad to actually read and reply to messages. It was one of the few games that actually made smart use of the console’s unwieldy controller. Obviously that isn’t possible on the Switch. But surprisingly, it still works just fine; the messaging app simply takes over the TV screen instead. It’s not as cool, but you don’t lose anything aside from the novelty factor.

One of the most-requested Switch ports right now is the sprawling JRPG Persona 5. But, aside from an upcoming spinoff, it doesn’t look like that will happen any time soon. Tokyo Mirage Sessions is the next best thing, and yet another perfect fit for the Switch. It’s a game that didn’t get nearly enough attention as it deserved at launch — but one that will hopefully find new life on Nintendo’s tablet.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions launches on January 17th on the Nintendo Switch.


Spotify will now make a playlist for your cat

Spotify is launching a silly new playlist generator today that promises to create a playlist that both you and your pet will enjoy. The whole thing seems to be designed to go viral, which is one of the ways Spotify has had luck standing out from competitors like Apple Music that have largely the same exact music offering.

To get a playlist for your pet, you have to head over to Spotify’s Pet Playlist website. It then presents you with five pet options — cat, dog, iguana, bird, or hamster — and asks you to define a few personality traits, like whether they’re energetic or relaxed, shy or friendly, and apathetic or curious. You can then add your pet’s name and a photo, and Spotify will spit out a playlist icon with your animal’s name on it.

The playlist generator seems to grab songs that Spotify thinks you — the human owner and operator of the Spotify account — might enjoy, with how fast, slow, or varied they are, depending on the personality traits you chose. The site determined that my extremely energetic cat Pretzel would like Black Moth Super Rainbow, Das Racist, and The Smiths. These are all bands that I’m sure I’ve listened to on Spotify but not with any regularity. For good measure, it also threw in a handful of songs that just happen to have the word “cat” in the title, like The Rolling Stones’ “Stray Cat Blues” and Hot Chip’s “Alley Cats.” I hate to say it, but the playlist seems pretty good.

As for whether my cat will like it, that’s harder to say. He’s never really acknowledged playing music before, though he does quite enjoy sitting on top of my bookshelf speaker.


Twitter’s Jack Dorsey on edit button: ‘We’ll probably never do it’

Twitter users have been asking for the option to edit tweets ever since the service launched in 2006, but the company has always prevaricated, saying it’s looking into the problem, or considering it deeply, or a hundred other ways of saying “please stop bothering us about this, please.”

Now, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has given perhaps the most definitive answer on the question to date. During a video Q&A with Wired, Dorsey was asked if there’ll be an edit button for Twitter in 2020. He replies, with a faint smile: “The answer is no.” Watch below:

This isn’t a huge surprise. Although Twitter’s users have long argued for the benefits of an edit button, the company has always been ambivalent; happy to consider the question to placate its users, but never actually committing to a fix. As Twitter’s product lead Kayvon Beykpour said last summer: “Honestly, it’s a feature that I think we should build at some point, but it’s not anywhere near the top of our priorities.”

In the video Q&A, Dorsey expands on this thinking, noting that the decision to leave out an edit button has its roots in Twitter’s original design. “We started as an SMS, text message service. And as you all know, when you send a text, you can’t really take it back,” he says. “We wanted to preserve that vibe, that feeling, in the early days.”

He notes that the service has moved on since, but the company doesn’t consider an edit button worth it. There are good reasons for editing tweets, he says, like fixing typos and broken links, but also malicious applications, like editing content to mislead people.

“So, these are all the considerations,” says Dorsey. “But we’ll probably never do it.”

But again, note that there’s just a sliver of ambiguity in what he says (“we’ll probably never do it”), which leaves open the possibility of enabling edits in future. Whether out of strategy or spite, Dorsey just won’t fully commit to an answer, giving himself the option of changing his mind in future. At least, then, he understands the appeal of an edit button.


Windows 7 is gone, but what’s next for Windows 10?

Yesterday’s computer news was about something old: Windows 7. After 11 years, Microsoft is officially ending support for it — though as Tom Warren notes, there’s a healthy chance the company will blink and provide some kind of security update at some point for something critical.

Windows has a reputation for shipping a good version, then a bad version. Windows 7 was one of the good versions, and upgrades to Windows 10 are free for consumers. That means you can skip right over Windows 8, and more power to you.

Now, the future for Windows is harder to divine. Microsoft won’t be releasing a “Windows 11,” but instead updating Windows 10 on whatever cadence it can decide on from year to year. Early on it seemed like it wanted to be a lot like Chrome OS in issuing updates on a regular and frequent cadence, but lately things are moving a little slower as some bugs have crept in. There’s also Windows 10X coming later this year, the version of Windows 10 designed for foldable devices.

When I interviewed Microsoft’s CEO back in May 2018 (time flies!!), it was clear to me that Microsoft wants to make sure its fortunes don’t depend on Windows — and Nadella has achieved that goal already. Microsoft is as focused on making sure its software runs well on other platforms as it is on maintaining the platform that made the company — maybe more so.

I think the action for the next while is going to be centered around the new Edge browser — based on Chromium — and what Microsoft can do with it. I’m confident the Edge browser itself will run fairly well and hopeful it’ll be less of a battery killer than Chrome. For me, the thing to watch is whether Microsoft can use that technology elsewhere in Windows and Office or if Edge will just feel tacked-on.

Goodbye, Windows 7

Microsoft bids farewell to Windows 7 and the millions of PCs that still run it

Thank you to Windows 7 for undoing some of Vista’s excesses. Thank you also to Windows 7 for being good enough to allow millions of people to skip Windows 8 because of its excesses. You have been stalwart and true, but now is the time for you to rest. May your registry always be clean and your start menu uncluttered.

I salute you, oh Windows 7, with the salute emoticon, which happily includes the number seven: o7

How to upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10 for free

The PC market just had its first year of growth since 2011

With Microsoft ending support for Windows 7 today, businesses around the world are being forced to upgrade their legacy devices, leading to “vibrant business demand” for Windows 10, according to Gartner.

Microsoft patches Windows 10 security flaw discovered by the NSA

It’s unusual to see the NSA reporting these types of vulnerabilities directly to Microsoft, but it’s not the first time the government agency has done so. This is the first time the NSA has accepted attribution from Microsoft for a vulnerability report, though

More news from The Verge

Trump accuses Apple of refusing to unlock criminals’ iPhones, setting the stage for a fight

Latest Galaxy S20 Plus leak shows off 120Hz display and no headphone jack

Max Weinbach is back with more details and specs. Looks like 120Hz screens is going to be baseline for Android flagships this year. I’m also intrigued by the taller/longer shape. I really did like it on the Sony Xperia phones last year.

By the way — the consensus is that “Bloom” was the codename for Samsung’s folding phone and the actual product name is going to be “Galaxy Z Flip.” I think my concerns about addressing gender could still stand, though, depending on how Samsung positions the phone. I will say that the only thing that endears me to the phrase “Galaxy Z Flip” is that is has the last three letters of the English alphabet all a row.

Yahoo parent Verizon promises it won’t track you with OneSearch, its new privacy-focused search engine

From the company that brought you the Super Cookie, a …privacy-focused search engine? Fool me once but I guess we could take Verizon at its word here, because it would be quite a scandal if it turned out otherwise. Maybe.

Let’s just call this a trust-but-verify kind of situation — if we’ve learned anything about tracking over the past decade, its that people find ways to do it that you never would have imagined.

Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time is the GOAT of low-stakes television

One sign of admiration that you can see in this article and everywhere else is that we write it “Jeopardy!,” exclamation point included and do so without the usual millennial irony. (Or is it Gen X irony?). If you want to teach somebody how to be stoic, kind, funny, and empathetic all at once, you could do a lot worse than sit them down have them watch Alex Trebek host this show.

Time zones mess up more than just your sense of time

You might think you know what you’re getting into with this video by Cory Zapatka and Verge Science, but it takes a fascinating and vital turn halfway through. For some, setting their watch is a political act.

Coral is Google’s quiet initiative to enable AI without the cloud

Little, easily programmable AI chips are going to be an essential part of our computing infrastructure — it can’t all go to the cloud. James Vincent looks into Google’s offering in that regard, Coral. It’s a little too tightly tied to Google’s own AI ecosystem for many, though.

Anyway, if you’ve heard Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella talk about “the intelligent edge” any time in the past year and wondered what he’s on about, this story is a good primer on what these devices are, why they’re needed, and what their potential might be — whether they’re made by Google or not.

Instagram starts bringing DMs to the web

Good get from Ashley Carman. Access on the desktop may not be the main way mobile chat apps are used these days, but it’s essential for people who have office jobs. If you’re staring at a certain screen all day and your fingers are on a certain keyboard, you’re more likely to use the chat app that can appear on that screen and work with that keyboard.

Google to ‘phase out’ third-party cookies in Chrome, but not for two years

Here’s me, touching briefly on what’s going on with the browser war. It really does inflame a lot of passions and I really do think every side here is not giving the other side the benefit of the doubt. And that those sides would probably say ‘you darn tootin’ we’re not giving those varmints the benefit of the doubt!’ That’s how web developers talk, you see. There are very good reasons for everybody to distrust everybody else in this whole privacy mess.

Here comes the cliche, though: good, so long as all that contention leads to a more resilient and long-lasting solution. We need to have this conversation and the web and the browsers we use to access it need to develop more quickly. Too many things are broken right now.

SpaceX continues to blast satellites into orbit as the space community worries

Elon Musk’s plan to put 42,000(!) internet-providing satellites into space raises a lot of legitimate issues, especially when it comes to tracking satellites and preventing collisions. Loren Grush has a deep, nuanced look at the current state of things for both that and astronomy. Worth your time:

The truth about Starlink is that there is no solid truth. Depending on who you ask, the constellation either won’t be that much of a problem, or it will lead to a space apocalypse

OnePlus CEO Pete Lau doesn’t think folding phones are good enough

This was a fun podcast — Lau’s first, he says.


Microsoft bids farewell to Windows 7 and the millions of PCs that still run it

Today is a big day for Windows. Microsoft is dropping support of Windows 7, nearly 11 years after first launching the operating system with a flashy New York City marketing campaign. “I’m a PC, and Windows 7 was my idea” was the message back then, a clear nod to the fact that it was designed to fix the Windows Vista failure. Windows 7 certainly did fix things, with its new task bar, Aero window management, file libraries, and much more.

Windows 7 became so popular, in fact, that it took Windows 10 nearly four years just to pass it in market share. Even today, millions of PCs are still running Windows 7, and the operating system still runs on a massive 26 percent of all PCs according to data from Netmarketshare. Microsoft spent years trying to get people to upgrade to Windows 10 free of charge, but tens of millions of PCs will now be left vulnerable to exploits and security vulnerabilities.

Businesses and education Windows 7 users will be able to pay for extended security updates, but it could be a costly venture for some. Extended updates for Windows 7 Enterprise is approximately $25 per machine, and the cost doubles to $50 per device in 2021 and again to $100 in 2022. It’s even worse for Windows 7 Pro users, which starts at $50 per machine and jumps to $100 in 2021 and $200 in 2022. These costs will naturally vary depending on the volume of PCs in use at a business, but they’re still going to be substantial for larger firms.

Microsoft is easing these costs with a free year of post-retirement updates to Windows 7 customers with active Windows 10 subscriptions. That hasn’t made a big dent in Windows 7 market share recently, though.

A Windows 7 upgrade notification.

Microsoft has been notifying Windows 7 users throughout 2019 about today’s end of support, so people still stuck on the OS can’t say they haven’t been warned. A full-screen notification will appear for Windows 7 users on Wednesday, warning that systems are now out of support. Microsoft is trying to convince existing users to upgrade to machines running Windows 10, a trend that caused the global PC market to have its first year of growth since 2011.

Despite the end of support, Windows 7 looks like it has some life left in it yet. It could take another year or two to get Windows 7 firmly below 10 percent market share, especially when Google is committing to support Chrome on Windows 7 until at least the middle of 2021. That presents Microsoft with some headaches for ongoing support. We’ve already seen the software giant break with tradition multiple times for Windows XP, issuing public patches for the operating system after its end of support date. Given the increases in ransomware attacks in recent years and their devastating effects, it’s likely we’ll see public Windows 7 security patches in the future.

The vast majority of these support headaches will come from businesses that don’t always upgrade to the very latest Windows releases. Windows Vista and Windows 8 weren’t exactly solid in-between releases to which you could reliably upgrade, and that left most businesses running Windows XP or Windows 7 to avoid software issues and incompatibilities. Windows 8 won’t have the same issues when its support ends in 2023, as it’s only running on less than 5 percent of all PCs.

Windows 10 REVIEW embargoed
Windows 10.

Windows 10 has also attempted to combat this end of support problem with Microsoft’s big “Windows as a service” push. Businesses and consumers were given 18 months before they need to move from a major Windows 10 update to another, and Microsoft has been releasing two big updates per year. That’s led to some complaints from businesses, so Microsoft has now slowed the pace to 30 months of support for each big September update and 18 months for the March ones. This won’t affect consumers who will only be supported for 18 months per release, but these machines typically upgrade automatically to the latest Windows 10 release and aren’t the source of Microsoft’s support woes.

We’ve already hit multiple end-of-support dates for various Windows 10 releases without any major hiccups, and three versions are set to reach end of service this year alone. If businesses keep upgrading regularly, then Windows 10 may have truly solved some of Microsoft’s support headaches for the future.

Windows as a service does present interesting questions about PC sales over the next decade, though. Windows 7 end of life has helped the PC market bounce back in 2019, but with no “Windows 11” in sight, the PCs that businesses are purchasing now could last longer than ever before. Microsoft, Intel, and PC OEMs will be hoping that Surface and the constant push to improve hardware will convince businesses and even consumers to upgrade. That didn’t happen immediately with the “PC Does What?” marketing campaign four years ago, which aimed to get people with older Windows 7 PCs to upgrade to new hardware. There are probably still millions of consumers holding on to Windows 7 machines simply because they continue to work fine for the basics.

Surface Neo.
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Microsoft, Intel, and others are now focused on foldable and dual-screen laptops for 2020 and beyond. Microsoft is building out its Windows 10X variant for this new hardware, and we’ve started to see some target devices announced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) last week. It’s still early days for this type of hardware, and Windows 10X will have to do a lot of work to make these devices shine.

We’ll likely never witness another giant release of Windows like we’ve seen with Windows 10 or Windows 7 in the past, even for foldable devices. Microsoft’s priorities have certainly shifted under CEO Satya Nadella. “The operating system is no longer the most important layer for us,” explained Nadella at the launch of new Surface devices last year. Windows is still a significant part of Microsoft’s business, but it’s not the future of it. Microsoft is embracing Android, cross-platform software and services, and the cloud. It’s a company that increasingly embraces competitors like Amazon, Samsung, Sony, and Google to transform its own business.

That transformation is ongoing, and Microsoft is increasingly looking at the web to work its way onto rival platforms. The end of Windows 7 is simply another milestone in the history of Windows. It comes at the start of a new decade, and it marks the end of an era when Windows ruled everyone’s computing experiences. How Windows adapts over the next decade could be the most significant change for Microsoft in its 44-year history.


With the Galaxy S20 and Bloom, Samsung is shaking up its phone names again

Now that CES is over, we turn our attention to the next big tech unveiling — no rest for the wicked! Samsung announced its February 11th “Unpacked” event ahead of CES and is widely expected to have two phones: an update to the Galaxy S10 and a new, clamshell-style folding phone.

Because nothing can ever be simple, Samsung has decided to change the naming scheme for the Galaxy S series away from sequential, incremental numbering to the year of release. Or at least, I hope that the fact it’s getting released in 2020 is the reason Samsung appears to be calling its next phone the Galaxy S20 instead of the S11. I hope that mostly because I don’t know if I can handle having to listen and react to any other rationalization.

I’m not mad in the change, just disappointed. We already have arms races for specs on phones, the last thing I want is another one for how big the numbers in their names are.

Anyway, right on schedule we have real-world photos which confirm Samsung’s next flagship phone is called the Galaxy S20, if you were holding out hope that this S20 rumor wouldn’t pan out.

It’s a good scoop from Max Weinbach at XDA Developers. It looks as though there’ll be no fewer than five variants of this phone, but don’t slam Samsung too hard for that. As OnePlus CEO Pete Lau pointed out to me last week, every phone maker is having to make extra versions of their phones during the 5G transition. So really, think of it as three version: the S20, S20 Plus, and S20 Ultra.

That “Ultra” is apparently going to be a spec monster, and I hope Samsung uses it as permission to push the prices on the regular S20 down into more reasonable territories. The iPhone 11 starts at $699 and ideally the Galaxy S20 will too. Samsung has a little wiggle room, maybe, as it’s more willing than Apple to allow a wide variety of carrier discounts.

If you missed it on Friday, there’s also a blurry photo of the folding phone, which is reportedly going to be called the Samsung Bloom. I am into the rumored name, but I am feeling both optimistic and nervous about the positioning:

What’s new is the name and marketing for the Bloom. Ajunews says Samsung wants the device to appeal to young women, and says its clamshell design is easy to hold in one hand. Samsung Electronics CEO DJ Koh reportedly told one partner: “We designed Galaxy Bloom with the motif of compact powder from French cosmetics brand Lancôme.”

If Samsung is being sincere here, then I really love that advanced tech is being made with women in mind. Big companies should think harder about how to appeal to more consumers. The reason I’m feeling nervous is that Samsung itself has a lousy track record when it comes to navigating gender issues. As recently as 2017, Samsung gendered the possible voices for its Bixby assistant and created descriptor tags for the female voice that included “chipper” and “cheerful.”

Back in the early 2010s a lot of companies made hamfisted attempts to create phones that appealed to women (HTC Rhyme, anyone?) and we should expect better in 2020. If Samsung really does want to appeal to a wider range of genders with the Bloom, hopefully it does more than make it small and gesture to cosmetics. The shoe industry is finally figuring out how to design for women — the phone industry can definitely do better.

I hope Samsung has learned from all those past mistakes.

News from The Verge

Trump’s attorney general asks Apple to unlock a shooter’s iPhones

Microsoft CEO says encryption backdoors are a ‘terrible idea’

Alphabet’s top lawyer is leaving with no exit package following misconduct scandals

Microsoft says Xbox Series X won’t have exclusive first-party games at launch

It’s a bold strategy, Cotton. Let’s see if it pays off for ‘em.

Elon Musk: ‘Teslas will soon talk to people if you want. This is real’

I don’t know why the “This is real” addition is what makes this story, but it’s absolutely what makes this story. I’m going to start appending that phrase to everything I say that’s even a little bit difficult to imagine. “I will try to make a frittata this weekend. This is real.” “Tomorrow I am going to reduce the number of emails in by inbox by 20 percent. This is real.” “I think stepping on a bathmat with wet feet is a wildly inconsiderate thing to do to your roommates. This is real.”

GTA IV has disappeared from Steam because of Games for Windows Live

Is it a stretch to turn this weird story into an allegory for how dangerous it is to depend entirely on app store infrastructure for app and game functionality, no matter how convenient it is for users to not have to deal with multiple sign-in and no matter how big the check from the big platforms might be? Probably, but not definitely.

Apple gets regulatory approval for mystery MacBook

I hope Apple aggressively refreshes the entire MacBook line with the new magic keyboard this year, optics and standard product cycles be damned. The real magic in the magic keyboard will be the extra money that will magically appear on Apple’s quarterly earnings from people begrudgingly buying new laptops earlier than they otherwise would have because they’re sick unto death of the butterfly keyboard.

More tech trends we saw kick off last week

The Verge Awards at CES 2020: welcome to the land of the concept

Note that we put scare quotes about “best” in the “‘Best’ of CES.” I’ve been writing about the balance of concepts to products for a week now, so I don’t have a whole lot more to add here. Some good picks in the other categories, though, worth a look!

Laptops were boring at CES, but there’s hope for the future

CES landed in a particular dip in the parts cycle this time around. There are exciting new chips and exciting new form factors coming, but neither was really ready to come out in force this January. Don’t let it get you down.

This year’s monitors will be faster, brighter, and curvier than ever

I agree with Sam Byford on this:

If I were buying a gaming monitor today, I would probably at least want to future-proof myself with HDR support, and I think that would probably mean considering a high DisplayHDR spec to be essential. As for Mini LED, it’s hard to say how much of a leap forward it represents — the effectiveness of LED dimming solutions can vary from model to model or panel to panel. But if nothing else, it should signal that you’re looking at a monitor with serious HDR support

How gaming PCs are competing with the PS5 and Xbox Series X

Good analysis from Nick Statt. Expect to see PCs and consoles wander into each others’ turf a lot this year.

Wi-Fi 6 is finally here

Wi-Fi 6 was never meant to be a technology so powerful as to be worth upgrading for. It comes with speed increases, up to 9.6 Gbps from a theoretical maximum of 3.5 Gbps on Wi-Fi 5. But that extra bandwidth is more about allowing routers to scale across the multitude of devices in your home, rather than deliver incredible bursts of speed to any one device (your internet speed is likely nowhere close to that maximum anyway).

OnePlus confirms its next phone will jump to a 120Hz screen

I touched on this briefly in the post, but I am a little conflicted about this for a couple reasons.

First: while I do prefer higher-refresh rate screens, I am not yet convinced they’re worth the trade-off for battery life just yet. Which makes this a frustrating thing to turn into a spec race, because the incentive will be to ship phones with a higher Hz number instead of phones that are well-balanced. I’m not saying OnePlus is doing that, but I am saying I worry the incentives for everybody in the industry are going to be skewed in a bad direction this year.

Second: This isn’t new, but OnePlus joins LG and Google in pre-announcing features ahead of announcing the phone itself. That’s all well and good, but if too many more companies jump on that bandwagon it’s going to get really exhausting.

Asus built a mini GPU specifically for Intel’s tiny gaming box

Another potential sign that this new form factor Intel is pushing might actually have legs. I can’t decide yet if hope it does, but at least a small part of me wants it to succeed. Mainly because I am sure a bunch of people are going to buy into the vision this year and I’d hate for them to be left in the lurch next year and the year after.


Google says new AI models allow for ‘nearly instantaneous’ weather forecasts

Weather forecasting is notoriously difficult, but in recent years experts have suggested that machine learning could better help sort the sunshine from the sleet. Google is the latest firm to get involved, and in a blog post this week shared new research that it says enables “nearly instantaneous” weather forecasts.

The work is in the early stages and has yet to be integrated into any commercial systems, but early results look promising. In the non-peer-reviewed paper, Google’s researchers describe how they were able to generate accurate rainfall predictions up to six hours ahead of time at a 1km resolution from just “minutes” of calculation.

That’s a big improvement over existing techniques, which can take hours to generate forecasts, although they do so over longer time periods and generate more complex data.

Speedy predictions, say the researchers, will be “an essential tool needed for effective adaptation to climate change, particularly for extreme weather.” In a world increasingly dominated by unpredictable weather patterns, they say, short-term forecasts will be crucial for “crisis management, and the reduction of losses to life and property.”

Google’s work used radar data to predict rainfall. The top image shows cloud location, while the bottom image shows rainfall.

The biggest advantage Google’s approach offers over traditional forecasting techniques is speed. The company’s researchers compared their work to two existing methods: optical flow (OF) predictions, which look at the motion of phenomenon like clouds, and simulation forecasting, which creates detailed physics-based simulations of weather systems.

The problem with these older methods — particularly the physics-based simulation — is that they’re incredibly computationally intensive. Simulations made by US federal agencies for weather forecasting, for example, have to process up to 100 terabytes of data from weather stations every day and take hours to run on expensive supercomputers.

“If it takes 6 hours to compute a forecast, that allows only 3-4 runs per day and resulting in forecasts based on 6+ hour old data, which limits our knowledge of what is happening right now,” wrote Google software engineer Jason Hickey in a blog post.

Google’s methods, by comparison, produce results in minutes because they don’t try to model complex weather systems, but instead make predictions about simple radar data as a proxy for rainfall.

The company’s researchers trained their AI model on historical radar data collected between 2017 and 2019 in the contiguous US by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). They say their forecasts were as good as or better than three existing methods making predictions from the same data, though their model was outperformed when attempting to make forecasts more than six hours ahead of time.

This seems to be the sweet spot for machine learning in weather forecasts right now: making speedy, short-term predictions, while leaving longer forecasts to more powerful models. NOAA’s weather models, for example, create forecasts up to 10 days in advance.

While we’ve not yet seen the full effects of AI on weather forecasting, plenty of other companies are also investigating this same area, including IBM and Monsanto. And, as Google’s researchers point out, such forecasting techniques are only going to become more important in our daily lives as we feel the effects of climate change.


Why activists get frustrated with Facebook

On Monday morning I met with a group of activists who live under authoritarian regimes. The delegation had been brought to San Francisco by the nonprofit Human Rights Foundation as part of a fellowship focused on the relationship between activism and Silicon Valley. And the big question they had for me was: why do social networks keep taking down my posts?

The question caught me off guard. For every story in this newsletter about an activist’s post wrongly (and often temporarily) being removed, there are three more about the consequences of a post that was left up: a piece of viral misinformation, a terrorist recruitment video, a financial scam, and so on. As I wrote in 2018, we are well into the “take it down” era of content moderation.

Sometimes the activists’ posts came down because their governments demanded it. Other times the posts came down because of over-cautious content moderation. Increasingly, the activists told me, social networks were acting as if they would rather be safe from government intervention than sorry. And whenever their posts and pages came down, they said, they had very little recourse. Facebook does not have a customer support hotline, much less a judicial branch. (Yet. More on that below.)

The activists’ concerns were fresh in my mind when I read about the weekend’s removal of Instagram accounts in Iran that expressed support for the Iranian general Qassem Soleiman, who was killed by the United States last week. Like a strong antibiotic, it appears that Instagram’s enforcement action wiped out both accounts tied to the ruling regime and the posts of everyday Iranians.

Facebook’s explanation? Sanctions. Here’s Donie O’Sullivan and Artemis Moshtaghian in CNN:

As part of its compliance with US law, the Facebook spokesperson said the company removes accounts run by or on behalf of sanctioned people and organizations.

It also removes posts that commend the actions of sanctioned parties and individuals and seek to help further their actions, the spokesperson said, adding that Facebook has an appeals process if users feel their posts were removed in error.

GoFundMe also removed at least two fundraising campaigns for passengers on the Ukrainian flight brought down by Iranian missiles, only to later reinstate them, my colleague Colin Lecher reported at The Verge. But Twitter, on the other hand, said it would leave posts up so long as they complied with the company’s rules.

The confusion is to be expected. Legal experts disagree on the extent to which sanctions require tech platforms to remove user posts, and the issue of Iran in particular has been giving companies fits for years. Here’s Lecher in The Verge:

While recent news has put the focus on Iran, it’s hardly the first time tech companies have mounted a zealous response to sanctions. Last year, GitHub restricted users in several countries under US sanctions.

Iran, which has faced sanctions for years, has regularly had tech companies limit use in the country in response to US policy. In 2018, Slack deactivated accounts around the world that were tied to Iran, in a move that stretched well beyond the borders of the country. Apple took several popular Iranian apps off its store in 2017 in the face of US sanctions. At the time, Apple issued a statement that’s still relevant: “This area of law is complex and constantly changing.”

At the same time, once again people around the world are waking up to the reality that their speech is governed by actors who are not accountable to them. Instagram has users but not citizens. Executives in California will decide what can be said in Tehran.

Of course, there’s vastly more free speech on Instagram than in a country like Iran, where activism is brutally repressed. But as the activists shared with me on Monday, the ramifications of social networks acting as quasi-states to reshape political speech in their countries are significant. And their struggles to appeal unjust content removals are real.

The good news is that later this year, Facebook will launch its independent Oversight Board: a Supreme Court for content moderation that will allow users to appeal in cases like the activists’ and the Iranian citizens’. One of the board’s rules will be that cases selected for review will include at least one person from the region in which the case originated. That’s not quite a democratically elected representative — but hopefully it bolsters the board’s accountability to Facebook’s user base.

There are still many questions about how the board will work in practice, and whether it can serve as a model for quasi-judicial systems at other companies. But hearing the activists’ stories today, and reading about the confusion over sanctions in Iran, it seemed to me that the board can’t launch quickly enough.

The Ratio

Today in news that could affect public perception of the big tech platforms.

Trending up: In December, Facebook updated its standards surrounding hate speech and banned many dehumanizing comparisons.

Trending down: In 2019, Americans said that social media wastes our time, spreads lies and divides the nation. And yet 70 percent still use Twitter or Facebook at least once a day.


Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell introduced a new bill that would give news organizations an exemption from antitrust laws. It would allow them to band together to negotiate with Google and Facebook over how their articles and photos are used online, and what payments the newspapers get from the tech companies. Cecilia Kang from The New York Times has the story:

Supporters of the legislation said it was not a magic pill for profitability. It could, they say, benefit newspapers with a national reach — like The Times and The Washington Post — more than small papers. Facebook, for instance, has never featured articles from Mr. NeSmith’s newspaper chain in its “Today In” feature, an aggregation of local news from the nation’s smallest papers that can drive a lot of traffic to a news site.

“It will start with larger national publications, and then the question is how does this trickle down,” said Otis A. Brumby III, the publisher of The Marietta Daily Journal in Georgia.

But the supporters say it could stop or at least slow the financial losses at some papers, giving them time to create a new business model for the internet.

Attorney General William Barr asked Apple to unlock two iPhones used by the gunman in the Pensacola shooting last month. The company already gave investigators data on the shooter’s iCloud account, but has refused to help them open the phones, which would undermine its privacy-focused marketing. (Katie Benner / The New York Times)

A Microsoft tool used to transcribe audio from Skype and Cortana, its voice assistant, ran for years with “no security measures”, according to one former contractor. He says he reviewed thousands of potentially sensitive recordings on his personal laptop from his home in Beijing over the two years he worked at the company. (Alex Hern / The Guardian)

Most cookie consent pop-ups seen by people in the EU are likely flouting regional privacy laws, a new study suggests. The pop-ups are ostensibly supposed to get permission to track people’s web activity. (Natasha Lomas / TechCrunch)

India’s Supreme Court said indefinite internet shutdowns violate the country’s laws concerning freedom of speech and expression. However, the order won’t immediately impact the ongoing internet shutdown in Kashmir. The government still has a week to produce a restrictive order detailing the reasons for the shut down. (Ivan Mehta / TNW)

India ordered an investigation into Amazon and Walmart’s Flipkart over allegedly anti-competitive practices. It’s the latest setback for US e-commerce giants operating in the country. (Aditya Kalra and Aditi Shah / Reuters)


Facebook and Google are no longer the top destinations for college students looking to land prestigious jobs after graduation. While some still see Big Tech as a way to make a lot of money, others feel like it’s an ethical minefield. Emma Goldberg at The New York Times explains the trend:

The share of Americans who believe that technology companies have a positive impact on society has dropped from 71 percent in 2015 to 50 percent in 2019, according to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey.

At this year’s Golden Globes, Sacha Baron Cohen compared Mark Zuckerberg to the main character in “JoJo Rabbit”: a “naïve, misguided child who spreads Nazi propaganda and only has imaginary friends.”

That these attitudes are shared by undergraduates and graduate students — who are supposed to be imbued with high-minded idealism — is no surprise. In August, the reporter April Glaser wrote about campus techlash for Slate. She found that at Stanford, known for its competitive computer science program, some students said they had no interest in working for a major tech company, while others sought “to push for change from within.”

Facebook shares hit an all-time high, despite attacks from both sides of the aisle ahead of this year’s presidential election. The company closed at $218.30 on Thursday, exceeding its previous high of $217.50 in July 2018 and valuing the company at $622 billion. (Tim Bradshaw / The Financial Times)

Facebook’s newest Oculus headset is in high demand, and the company has a VR-only sequel to Valve’s “Half Life” game series due out in March. The news signals Facebook’s VR quest is finally getting real. (Dan Gallagher / Wall Street Journal)

Facebook’s redesigned look for desktops is already here for some users, and will be broadly available before the spring. If you’re getting a first peak, you’ll see a pop-up inviting you to help test the “The New Facebook” when you login. (Ian Sherr / CNET)

Instagram added new Boomerang effects in an effort to compete with TikTok. Now, users can add SlowMo, “Echo” blurring, and “Duo” rapid rewind special effects to their Boomerangs, as well as trim their length. This all reminds me of one of my favorite tweets. (Josh Constine / TechCrunch)

AI-assisted health care systems, such as those being developed by Google, promise to combine humans and machines in order to facilitate cancer diagnosis. But they also has the potential to worsen pre-existing problems such as overtesting, overdiagnosis, and overtreatment. (Christie Aschwanden / Wired)

On TikTok, teens are using memes to cope with the possibility of World War III. The trend gained momentum after Soleimani’s death, with people posting bleak jokes about getting drafted. Fun!! (Kalhan Rosenblatt / NBC)

TikTok might launch a curated feed to provide a safer space for brands to advertise in. The decision comes as the Chinese-owned company faces new concerns about the volume of advertiser-unfriendly content on its platform.

Nine years after Twitch’s launch, the content that hardcore gamers most revile has officially become its most watched: just talking. A new report from StreamElements shows that in December, Twitch viewers watched 81 million hours of “Just Chatting.” (Cecilia D’Anastasio / Wired)

And finally…

My favorite thing on Twitter is just former costars Adam Sandler and Kathy Bates supporting one another as the Oscar nominations were announced.

Better luck next time, Sandman. (Uncut Gems is great.)

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The PC market just had its first year of growth since 2011

The worldwide PC market just grew consistently for the first time in eight years, according to market research firms IDC and Gartner. IDC reckons worldwide PC shipments grew by 2.7 percent to 266.7 million devices globally, while Gartner has it pegged at 0.6 percent to 261.2 million devices. 2018 contained the market’s first quarter of growth in six years, but in 2019 this finally lead to a full year of growth, the market’s first since 2011.

Although Gartner and IDC broadly agreed on the direction the PC market is currently heading in, the two firms count devices slightly differently. Both firms include desktops, notebooks, and detachable tablets like the Surface, but Gartner excludes Chromebooks.

Both IDC and Gartner cite Windows 10 upgrades for the turnaround. With Microsoft ending support for Windows 7 today, businesses around the world are being forced to upgrade their legacy devices, leading to “vibrant business demand” for Windows 10, according to Gartner. Windows 10 was installed on 900 million devices as of September last year, according to Microsoft. Data from NetMarketShare suggests there are still millions of PCs that are yet to make the upgrade, however, with Windows 7 still being used on over 30 percent of desktops.

IDC says that the benefits from needing to upgrade to a new operating system are unlikely to last long, however, and while there are new technologies like 5G and dual- and folding-screen devices on the horizon, these are going to take time to arrive. Eventually Microsoft is going to have to stop supporting Windows 8, but the operating system’s market share is so small in comparison to Windows 7 that it’s unlikely to lead to the same amount of upgrades.

It wasn’t all good news for the PC market in 2019. Gartner called Intel’s CPU shortage a “major issue,” and IDC reported that the situation was helped by the adoption of AMD CPUs. Performance also varied between companies. The top three PC manufacturers — Lenovo, HP, and Dell — all saw shipment growth, but fourth and fifth placed Apple and Acer saw PC shipments decline between 2018 and 2019.